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Expector's Tips on English Usage (14): but + (to)

Yes, 'but' can be followed by an infinitive without 'to', when 'but' means 'except', for example, 'We did nothing but read the book', or 'There is nothing to do but take a rest'.

You can say 'I can't (help) but laugh', instead of 'I can't help laughing'. 

However, 'no choice/alternative' can be followed by the 'to'-infinitive, so you say 'I have no choice but to quit'.

You need to use the 'to'-infinitive when 'but' doesn't mean 'except', for instance, 'Our goal isn't to pass the quize, but to be fluent in English'.

By the way, some other words, such as 'and', 'or', 'except', 'than', 'as', or 'like', can be followed by an infinitive without 'to'. You can say 'It's easier to encourage others to do it than do it yourself' or 'You can do something useful like teach them English'. 

You could make a sentence by using the pattern [but + (to) infinitive] in the comments!

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Tags: but, infinitive, omit, to

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Comment by Expector Smith on August 31, 2017 at 12:31

Hi andy,

Thanks for commenting. I'll keep blogging about English usage!

Comment by andy on August 31, 2017 at 9:22
Thanks a lot Expector Smith for your nice sharing, it reminds me indeed and always hope to see your next blog about grammar. Thanks

Comment by Expector Smith on July 23, 2017 at 8:29

Thanks Anxa!

Comment by Expector Smith on July 5, 2017 at 12:39

Thanks, SNR!

Comment by Expector Smith on June 26, 2017 at 15:38


Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you managed to make the sentences with 'but', and I assume you mean 'loquacious' by 'lucquacious':)

Comment by Expector Smith on June 25, 2017 at 15:53

Hi rysperski,

Thanks for commenting! Yes, 'to' is also a preposition, for example, 'I'm looking forward to hearing from you' or 'I objected to the decision'. 

By the way, the infinitive can be used to talk about people's purposes. You can say 'I just made a comment on the blog to encourage the blogger to keep writing'. So, 'to help' in your sentence is an infinitive - the 'to' isn't a preposition. 

Comment by rysperski on June 25, 2017 at 15:20

 Oi there, folks

  Thank you, Spector Smith, for posting this blog as it moves a very important issue concerning infinitive verbs and bare infinitives. This issue seems to frustrate many of those beginning to learn the English language.

  Nevertheless, I would like to point out that not all "to" are part of a verb, it can be just a preposition used for expressing aim, purpose, or intention. A fair example of this can be the following sentence:

    Many people on the site of the explosion tried to help the victims. - here the "to" is a preposition of aim, intention or purpose.

Comment by Expector Smith on June 25, 2017 at 12:04


Great! I enjoyed your sentences, which are all grammatically correct except for the first one.Maybe you could rephrase it like this: You made us do nothing but comment (on your blog):)



Comment by Ramnord on June 25, 2017 at 10:08

The house was set on fire, and he could do nothing but run.

Comment by Nomi on June 25, 2017 at 7:07
You left us with nothing but to comment.

No one has commented on your blog yet but me.

This blog is nothing but informative.

Thanks for sharing.

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